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Takahiro Arai

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Takahiro Arai (新井 貴浩)

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[edit] Biographical Information

Takahiro Arai has over 2,000 hits and 300 homers in Nippon Pro Baseball.

He is a Hiroshima native of Korean descent. In college, he won the Tohto University Baseball League RBI title in 1998 and went 6 for 12 against an American collegiate All-Star team. He only homered twice in college. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 1998 NPB draft by the Hiroshima Carp, the team he had followed as a kid. In 1999, Arai hit .221/.288/.484 for Hiroshima, but homered 7 times in 95 AB. He was involved in two bone-head plays in the course of a week. On September 14, he did not try to advance on a home run by Eddy Diaz because he thought it would be caught; Diaz passed him on the bases, resulting in an out. A week later, he lost count of the number of outs and threw away the ball after a double play, allowing a run to score.

Seeing an increase in playing time, he batted .245/.318/.505 with 16 HR in 208 AB in 2000. In '01, he was up to .284/.363/.495 with 18 homers in 313 AB. Finally entering the regular lineup at age 25, he split his time between first base and third in 2002 and batted .287/.342/.514 with 28 homers. He was one homer behind Tomoaki Kanemoto for the team lead and made his first All-Star team. He also led the league with 17 errors.

In 2003, Takahiro slipped to .236/.299/402 with 19 HR and a league-high 16 times grounding into double plays, while striking out 120 times as the primary 1B. His playing time was cut back in '04 but he bounced back to .263/.340/.424. Before the 2005 season, he spent four days and three nights at a Buddhist temple to help his focus, adjusting his swing and improved drastically, putting up a .305/.353/.603 line with 91 runs, 43 homers, 94 RBI and 326 total bases. He moved to third primarily, switching spots with Kenjiro Nomura. He was second in the Central League in slugging (behind Kanemoto) and led the loop in home runs and errors (23). He homered in six straight games, tying Rick Lancellotti's club record. He made his second All-Star team and his first Best Nine (at first instead of third, as Makoto Imaoka was picked there). His brother Ryota Arai was drafted that off-season. He played on Japan's team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic and went 1 for 3 with two strikeouts for the champion team.

In 2006, Arai hit .299/.336/.479 with 25 home runs and 100 RBI. He was 6th in the Central League in RBI, was third in sacrifice flies (9, one behind co-leaders Alex Ramirez and Shuichi Murata) and 10th in slugging. The next year, he batted .290/.351/.480 with 28 HR and 102 RBI. He tied Seung-yeop Lee for 6th in runs (84), tied Tyrone Woods for second in RBI (behind Ramirez), was 10th in home runs, third in strikeouts (136) and tied for second in double plays ground into (17), one behind Norihiro Nakamura.

Arai hit .500/.571/1.000 in the 2007 Asian Championship with 5 RBI in three games; he trailed tourney leader Chin-Feng Chen by one in RBI. Arai helped Japan win the title and clinch a spot in the 2008 Olympics with his performance.

Arai moved to the Hanshin Tigers as a free agent for 2008. In the 2008 Olympics, he batted .257/.289/.486 with 2 triples and 7 RBI in 9 games as Japan's starting first baseman despite battling injury. His 2-run homer off of Suk-min Yoon broke a scoreless duel against South Korea in the 6th inning but the Japanese staff blew the lead. With Japan down 5-2 in the 9th, Arai tripled against closer Hitoki Iwase and Shuichi Murata doubled Arai home. Japan got no further in the loss. South Korea would go on to an unbeaten record in Beijing. Arai was 10th in the preliminary round in slugging (.563). In the opening round, Arai's 6 RBI tied Nate Schierholtz, Atsunori Inaba, Matthew Brown, Alexei Bell and Giorvis Duvergel for 4th, trailing Alfredo Despaigne, Dae-ho Lee and Michel Enriquez.

Arai became head of the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association in 2008, replacing Shinya Miyamoto. He hit .306/.371/.454 for the season, but with only 8 homers, the lowest total since his rookie year and a drop-off of 20. He did field .999 and shared Gold Glove honors at 1B with Kenta Kurihara. He also made his 4th All-Star team. Moving back to 3B in 2009 in a flip with Kentaro Sekimoto, he rebounded on the power end though his contact and OBP rate fell; he hit .260/.299/.401 with 32 doubles, 15 homers and 82 RBI. His 24 double plays led CL third basemen and he fielded .973. He tied Seiichi Uchikawa for 5th in the league in doubles, was 8th in RBI (between Jamie D'Antona and Aaron Guiel) and hit into a league-high 20 double plays (3 ahead of Tyrone Woods and Yuki Yoshimura).

At age 33 in 2010, he posted his second-best OPS to that point, producing at a .311/.374/.484 clip with 96 runs, 42 doubles, 19 dingers and 112 RBI. He was 4th in the CL in runs (between Takashi Toritani and Kazuhiro Wada), 3rd in doubles (behind Masahiko Morino and Norichika Aoki), 3rd in RBI (trailing Ramirez and Craig Brazell), 7th in average (between Uchikawa and Jun Hirose) and 9th in OBP (between Kurihara and Hirose). He did not make the Best Nine as Morino was picked at the hot corner.

In 2011, he became the 56th NPB player to 250 homers when he took Yuki Shichijo deep September 28. He finished the year at .269/.321/.418 on offense with 17 long balls and 93 RBI, while fielding .946 at 3B. He led CL third basemen with 17 errors but was on the offensive leaderboards in homers (tied for 7th with Kurihara and Hisayoshi Chono) and RBI (1st, 6 ahead of Kurihara) in a year that was very pitcher-friendly with new baseballs being put in use.

The veteran was used regularly at both 3B (shared with his brother) and 1B (shared with Brazell) in 2012; he batted .250/.296/.363 with 9 home runs. With offensive levels still down, his 25 doubles tied Shota Dobayashi for 5th in the CL. He was the 39th NPB player to 1,000 RBI when he reached that mark in 2013; he also made his 5th All-Star Game and first in five years. He batted .267/.350/.403 with 15 home runs and 70 RBI and fielded .995 at first base. He tied Matt Clark for 7th in the loop in RBI and was 7th with 60 walks (between Tony Blanco and Hayato Sakamoto).

During 2014, he became a bench player, backing up Mauro Gomez at first and Ryota Imanashi at 3B while pinch-hitting frequently. He hit .244/.309/.330 with a career-low 3 homers in 194 plate appearances over 94 games. Hiroshima brought him back for 2015 and the old hometown hero had another resurgence, taking over 1B and moving Brad Eldred to the outfield. Arai hit .275/.348/.385 with 7 homers, far from his old prime, but good enough to make a 6th All-Star team. He was 2 for 4 with a double, two runs and a RBI in the 2015 NPB All-Star Games, the big hit being a RBI double off Ken Togame in a 8-3 win in game 2. He was the 47th player to appear in 2,000 games in NPB.

Arai, only two years from being a bench player, then hit like his old self in 2016. The 39-year-old nearly had the second-highest OPS of his career, posting a batting line of .300/.372/.485 with 19 homers and 101 RBI. He became the 47th NPB player to 2,000 hits, doubling off Yoshihisa Naruse. He was the second-lowest draft pick to reach the mark; Yutaka Fukumoto had been a 7th-round draft pick. He and Hiroki Kokubo were the only players to reach 2,000 hits with their original team after having left in the interim. In the 2016 NPB All-Star Game 1, he started at 1B and hit 6th for the CL. He was 0 for 3 before leaving in a double switch in a 5-4 win; Dayan Viciedo took over at 1B and Keiji Obiki got his lineup spot. In Game 2, he replaced Viciedo at first and struck out against Kohei Arihara in a 5-4 win. In August, he took Masanori Ishikawa deep for his 300th homer, the 42nd player to that figure, and scored his 1,000th run, the 41st player to do so. For the season, he was 9th in the CL in average (between Shingo Kawabata and Tomotaka Sakaguchi), 9th in OBP (between Sakaguchi and Wladimir Balentien), 10th in slugging (between Viciedo and Yoshihiro Maru) and 3rd in RBI (behind Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and Tetsuto Yamada). He helped Hiroshima win their first Cl title in 25 years. In the 2016 Japan Series, he was 2 for 12 with 3 walks as the Carp fell to the Nippon Ham Fighters. He made the second Best Nine of his career. While he did not have the best numbers in the 2016 CL (Tsutsugo and Yamada were clearly better on the offensive end), he won the 2016 Central League MVP. It was a somewhat close vote, as he had 120 of 269 first-place votes and 781 vote points; teammates Ryosuke Kikuchi (54, 429) and Seiya Suzuki (35, 365) also received significant support. It might be likened to Willie Stargell's winning of the 1979 NL MVP - a sentimental favorite with pretty good numbers helps his team to the pennant and takes the award. He was the first MVP for the Carp since Shinji Sasaoka back in 1991 and the first first baseman to win since Roberto Petagine in 2001.

Sources include: Defunct Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland, 2008 Olympics, Pictures of Arai, Yakyudb.com, Japanese Wikipedia

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